Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, affects more than 14 million Americans. It’s one of the most common thyroid issues out there, with about 5 out of 100 people experiencing it in the US.
It can be an especially disheartening disease to deal with when symptoms first develop, because Hashimoto’s symptoms can be mistake for other health issues, so it usually takes a while to narrow down a diagnosis.
If you have Hashimoto’s disease, it’s fairly likely that your doctor has suggested you consider giving up gluten.
Depending on how you feel about the ingredient, giving up gluten might be an easy task for you to try—or it could be a frustrating and intimidating uphill battle
If you’ve been living with Hashimoto’s, you’re likely also suffering from exhaustion, potential depression, and memory issues, so you might even be happy to give up gluten if it will help ease your symptoms.
No matter where you fall on the gluten scale, there’s a reason your doctor associates gluten-free life with Hashimoto’s: when you have one autoimmune disorder, you’re more likely to develop another, like Celiac, in which the body can’t process gluten. About 4-10% of people who have Hashimoto’s also have Celiac disease.
Hashimoto’s and potential gluten sensitives have been scientifically linked in several ways, but we’ll get to that. First, let’s take a deeper look at Hashimoto’s itself.
What Is Hashimoto’s disease?
Hashimoto’s disease is an issue relating to the thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. The thyroid is part of your endocrine system, and the hormones it produces help to regulate systems like your metabolism, digestive function, and many others.
Hashimoto’s is correlated with hypothyroidism, and issue that occurs when your thyroid does not produce enough hormones.
Hashimoto’s is also an autoimmune disease, meaning that your body’s immune system attacks the thyroid, which is why it then struggles to produce enough necessary hormones. One thing that makes Hashimoto’s difficult is that you may not experience significant symptoms for quite some time.
Once you do develop symptoms, they might include tiredness, depression, struggles with memory, weakness, weight gain, joint or muscle pain, hair loss, or changes in heart rate.
Hashimoto’s disease can be accompanied by a goiter—an enlarged thyroid. This can cause your neck to swell, and you might have trouble swallowing because of it. Hashimoto’s can also go hand-in-hand with thyroid nodules. Hashimoto’s disease, like other thyroid issues, is often hereditary.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease but believe you have it, be sure to talk to your doctor, as they can help suggest medications and lifestyle changes that can help reduce your symptoms. It can take some time after beginning medication to see a reduction in symptoms, so the sooner you see a doctor, the better.
The Relationship Between Hashimoto’s Disease And Gluten
One of the most powerful lifestyle changes to make when managing Hashimoto’s disease is your diet—and one of the first foods you’ll likely be advised to cut out is gluten.
Why Gluten Is The First Thing To Go
While gluten doesn’t cause Hashimoto’s disease, research has found a strong link between gluten sensitivities and Hashimoto’s disease. Research has also found that if a person has one autoimmune disorder, they’re more likely to develop another.
Celiac disorder, which is characterized by the body’s inability to process gluten, is an autoimmune disorder, and in some instances, people with Hashimoto’s also end up with Celiac. This is not an automatic given by any means, but it does happen.
Below, findings exploring the correlation between Celiac disease and thyroid issues:
(Table via this 2001 study)
Even if Hashimoto’s disease is the only autoimmune disorder you have, you’re likely to find some relief from your symptoms by going gluten free. Because of all this, doctors may often caution against gluten if you’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease.
Possible Food Myths
While there are plenty of food guidelines worth following when you’re diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, there are also some potential myths worth steering clear of. Here are a few to be aware of:
False: Raw dairy is okay to consume with Hashimoto’s disease.
Many people with Hashimoto’s are encouraged to reduce their dairy intake. Sometimes the idea is shared that it’s okay to consume raw dairy, because it’s pasteurized dairy that clashes with Hashimoto’s. Unfortunately, this often isn’t true, and raw dairy can still be a problem as well.
False: You can’t eat cruciferous vegetables.
Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and other cruciferous veggies are goitrogens, a substance that could cause a goiter to form. Different goitrogens have different behaviors in the body—some block your body from absorbing iodine, some change the way your thyroid hormone is produced, and some do other things entirely.
These veggies block iodine absorption, but since developing goiters due to Hashimoto’s is hereditary rather than caused by iodine deficiency, these cauliflower and broccoli are no problem, especially if they’re cooked.
False: If your doctor doesn’t detect a gluten sensitivity, you can keep eating it with abandon.
Lab tests do not always properly reveal gluten sensitivities, and sometimes the best way to be absolutely sure that you’re not sensitive to gluten is to do an elimination diet.
There is a strong correlation between Celiac and other autoimmune disease:
(Table via this 2001 study)
False: You need to eat lots of carbs to feel good while managing Hashimoto’s disease.
As we’ll mention later, the Paleo diet is a popular option when living with Hashimoto’s, but some people feel exhausted on the diet.
It’s easy to assume that this is because the body is craving carbs, but in reality, it could be due to low stomach acid, a problem for many people with Hashimoto’s that makes it difficult and extra tiring for the body to digest protein.
What Not To Eat
If you’re looking for more relief from Hashimoto’s disease symptoms, one of your best moves is to eliminate gluten from your diet and see if you find any relief. This means cutting out wheat, barley, and rye from your diet, as well as many other foods that are prepared with gluten or contain it as a core ingredient.
You might also want to consider cutting out dairy from your diet. You might have an intolerance to dairy without realizing it, and cutting it out may help to reduce inflammation and other symptoms. When you have an autoimmune disorder, your body is also more likely to confuse gluten for dairy in your system, which can lead to extra stress on the thyroid.
If you’re looking for even more ways to manage symptoms, you might also see some results by eating less eggs, soy, sugar, and processed foods. You may also want to try an elimination diet to help determine which foods you are sensitive to, or talk to your doctor for extra tips about the process.
Can You Ever Eat Gluten Again?
The short answer is that it depends.
The long answer is that your personal relationship with gluten depends on your own individual circumstances, and even if you don’t have a diagnosed gluten sensitivity, you are likely to see a reduction in Hashimoto’s symptoms if you eliminate gluten.
Some people with Hashimoto’s have found great results simply reducing the amount of gluten they eat rather than eliminating it altogether.
No matter how much you love gluten, it’s probably worth it to try a full trial elimination of gluten for a few weeks or months. Give it some time, as it can take quite a while for your gut to fully heal from giving up gluten and for you to see the results you’re seeking.
It’s worth the sacrifice to gauge whether your body reacts differently without gluten in your system. You never know—you could feel so much happier and healthier without it. If you see no difference, then you’ll know that you’re likely fine eating gluten again.
If you see an improvement, then you have the message you need from your body to reduce your gluten intake or to consider eliminating it altogether.
Hashimoto’s Diet And Healthy Alternatives
Three key ingredients you’ll want to keep on your radar to keep your thyroid healthy are selenium, zinc, and iodine. Making sure you get enough of these nutrients can make a big difference in managing hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease.
In some parts of the world, iodine deficiency is a leading cause of thyroid issues. To combat this issue, the US has added iodine to table salt. Because of this, you’re not as likely to be iodine deficient, but you’ll want to be on the lookout for iodine-rich foods nonetheless.
That said, make sure you’re not getting too much iodine—too little or too much of the nutrient can cause trouble for your thyroid. You’re looking to make sure you ingest the “just right” amount. Foods rich in iodine include eggs, salt, potatoes, and some seafood.
Of course, as mentioned, a gluten-free diet is a great move to consider when you have Hashimoto’s. Many people with Hashimoto’s also find great success and reduction of symptoms with the Paleo diet, which involves eating similarly to the way cavemen ate in the past.
Paleo diets don’t include dairy, grains, or other foods that cause autoimmune issues, which makes them incredibly compatible with Hashimoto’s.
There’s also a variation called the autoimmune Paleo diet, which follows many of the same principles as the original paleo diet, but includes more restrictions to protect your autoimmune health. The autoimmune paleo diet eliminates all gluten, as well as beans, nuts, and nightshade vegetables.
Vegetarian and vegan diets can also help to improve Hashimoto’s disease symptoms and reduce inflammation. That said, if you do choose to go vegan or vegetarian, be sure you’re getting enough iron, vitamin D, and other ingredients you might become deficient in if you give up meat.
Supplements can help you ensure you’re getting everything that you need.
There are plenty of delicious, healthy options to eat while managing Hashimoto’s symptoms. Below are just a few categories to help you get started.
While the list of foods you’ll want to avoid with Hashimoto’s disease can certainly feel overwhelming at first, the reality is that you’ll feel so much better once you take these steps.
Gluten could be causing you more flare-ups, symptoms, and pain than you ever imagined, so it’s worth a shot to see if you feel better without it.
Whether you ultimately choose to give it up gluten or other ingredients, the process will help you discover healthier foods that will make your body (and your thyroid) much happier. You can do this!
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